Ex-Diplomat Whiton: Afghan Elections Are 'Relatively Good Progress'

Friday, 04 Apr 2014 04:00 PM

By Lisa Barron

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With the Taliban vowing to disrupt Saturday's presidential and provincial elections in Afghanistan, Christian Whiton, a principal at D.C. International Advisory, says the situation in the country is highly unstable.

"Within reason there's going to be some irregularities, this is not a country that has a long tradition with democracy, quite the opposite of course. Taliban is doing their best to make this difficult. In fact, targeting foreign journalists in particular, moving away from targeting U.S. troops they still do that, there's still a lot of risk there," he told Newmsax TV's John Bachman and J.D. Hayworth on "America's Forum" Friday.

Two Associated Press journalists were shot, one of them fatally, in Afghanistan's eastern Khost province on Friday.

Whiton, a former State Department advisor during the George W. Bush administration, said that despite the danger, the elections could bring some positive developments.

"This is sort of a change there, but you are going to have a succession, an election, a movement away from [Afghan President Hamid] Karzai to his replacement, and this is relatively good progress for Afghanistan."

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This will be the third presidential vote since the fall of the Taliban in 2001 and the first democratic handover of power; Karzai is term-limited by the constitution.

"There are a number of candidates and one of their former foreign ministers is probably the most likely to win there, but it's actually unclear and that is another sign of some health that there's actually vigor and competition in the election," Whiton said.

"It is an opportunity, Karzai himself has moved away from the U.S. but you can also say that he's been pushed away. You recall Vice President Biden essentially endorsing his opponent in the last election even though it was certain that Karzai was going to win, corruption or no corruption. Not really a smart move.

"But an opportunity now; it may not be resolved this weekend when the elections are held, you have to get 50 percent or more so it could go to a run off and that's a big questions for us because Karzai has said it's not for him, but it's for his successor to sign a status of forces agreement that would keep some U.S. forces there."

All combat troops are scheduled to leave Afghanistan by the end of this year.

Asked if failed elections could lead to a full blown civil war, Whiton replied, "It's a possibility, but it seems unlikely because it doesn't seem that the Taliban has the capability to cause a true failure. Undoubtedly some people will be prevented from going to polls somewhere in that very large country, some people will be intimidated, some people will be punished for after the fact because the Taliban has said that anyone who participates is going on their bad list, if you will.

"But ultimately, the process will occur, Afghan forces and NATO forces will see to it so there will be a transfer of power in Afghanistan."

Turning to the peace talks in the Middle East, Whiton said, "It's going nowhere fast because clearly both sides don't share an interest in bringing it to an end."

Secretary of State John Kerry revealed Friday that the U.S. is evaluating whether to continue its role in the peace talks, saying there is a limit to Washington's efforts if the two parties themselves aren't willing to move forward.

"This is the problem that every single administration, Democrat or Republican, has. They come to town—the Bush administration resisted it at first, but at the end, Condi Rice, the Annapolis process—thinking you're going to get the deal of the century and the Palestinians will sell it over and over again, but never deliver the goods," Whiton said.

"So this is something that's the white whale for a lot of diplomats and thinking this will solve all the problems in the Middle East and it just never does."

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